Does Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature" suggest or claim that the "ethics" of people have changed over time?

I would say Pinker’s observations are explainable by the rise of civil society and the stabilization of its institutions over time. Ethics have not really evolved all that much during recorded history — not in the broadest moral sensibilities and contracts at least. Sure, there is variation across different cultures…but really no more variation over the grand arc of history than is evidenced in current cultural differences. The ancient Greeks had an advanced civil society with many of the benefits of modern democracies, and we have State-sanctioned genocide today just as we have had for the past two thousand years. The apparent reduction (per capita) of violence, war, etc. that Pinker explores is really not a consequence of ethics changing, IMO, but of civic institutions relieving many of the pressures that produce unethical behaviors. We are shaped by our environments to the extent that our natural propensities will be amplified by either a sense of safety, social support and relative affluence, or by insecurity, fear, deprivation and violence. We have always had (and probably always will have) the capacity to behave like animals, or like saints, but our experiences will encourage one cluster of habits over the other. So the greater the civic stability, the greater the potential for widespread prosocial behaviors.

Just my 2 cents.


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